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Family of California woman reaches wrongful death settlement

There's a reason that state parks post signs to warn hikers of danger: to warn about rough terrain ahead or of the chances of getting lost. In the case of a 35-year-old Encinitas woman and her 25-year-old cousin, who were hiking in Hawaii's Waialua River State Park in 2006, that danger was a 300-foot cliff.

Because of the state park's failure to adequately mark the trail, both women were killed when they fell from the unmarked cliff. Now, the state of Hawaii has agreed to pay $15 million to settle a wrongful death suit filed by the California woman's family. If approved by the legislature, the settlement will be the largest Hawaii has ever agreed to in a lawsuit of this kind.

A Hawaii judge found the state was liable for the deaths of the women because the sign that was posted on the trail created a hazard. The trail the women were hiking leads to a fork; one direction takes hikers down to a lagoon at the base of a waterfall, while the other trail leads to a cliff with a 300-foot drop. Park officials had placed a sign reading "Dangerous. Keep Out. Hazardous Conditions," but the sign indicated that the left side of the trail was dangerous, not the right side.

The Encinitas woman was a partner at a law firm specializing in securities litigation. The damages awarded to her husband and two young children, who were both under 5 at the time, are based on her potential future earnings. A portion of the settlement will be awarded to the family of her cousin.

Several days after the incident, park officials fenced off the area where the fall took place. Although this provides no consolation for the families of the two women who died, hopefully it will prevent any accidents from happening in the future.

Source: U-T San Diego, "Family gets $15M in Hawaii wrongful death suit," Dana Littlefield, March 21, 2012

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